Hokkaido Road Trip

For those of you wondering where exactly we drove in Hokkaido, I have prepared a google map which shows fairly well where we went. I’ve embedded it below.

Sapporo is a really friendly town. A kind man, a volunteer guide at the Clock Tower, showed us around and explained some of Sapporo’s history. He lived in Adelaide for a while to practice English. We had lunch in a local “cafeteria” which had amazingly good and cheap food. He provided us with some tips. We really appreciated his generosity.

We were hoping to take the overnight train from Tokyo to Sapporo. But unfortunately it was impossible to book a berth. Apparently it is very popular for Obon. Instead we flew with JAL, it was very very easy to book over the internet and it offers J Class for a small premium. J Class is excellent it is like business class and has made it very difficult for me to fly in economy class. There is actually space for my legs and the seats are comfortable. It convinces me that economy class is a conspiracy to create the “value” proposition for premium economy and business class. Anyway, my only bit of conspiracy theory for the trip.

We picked up our car in Sapporo it was a Toyota bB. You’ve seen photos already. Its a mini wagon and super practical. It survived with its 1.3 litre engine and automatic gearbox quite well in the hills and on the expressways. It demonstrates that most Australian cars are well over-specced and as a result over priced. We rented through the Toyota Rent-a-Car service and in particular the English website of Toyota Sapporo. The site is very good and the service was perfect.

We drove along the expressway to Asahikawa. The expressway (maximum speed 100, which no one follows) is much faster than the main roads (maximum speed 60 even in the country). It is also much more expensive. It cost us more than $30 for a trip of around 100km. But the pain soon wore off as we woofed down our Ramen, we went through the fields and town of Biei. To arrive at Furano for our first night. Natalux is a hotel that has been refurbished by a fashionable Tokyo designer. Pretty schmick for Furano and a bit more expensive. But enitirely enjoyable.

Next stop was Lake Shikotsu and the Lakeside Villa Suimekakui. I had a lot of hot baths that night and the next morning. The food was nothing short of outstanding and the trout from the lake will probably stay in my mind for the rest of my life. For a foreign tourist, particularly couples, the idea of separating and going to an onsen with the a large crowd isn’t to appealing. The Lakeside Villa Suimekakui has an in-room bath, plus access to two other fine baths on a private reservation basis. They were all great. If you want the best food, French and Japanese, and a great Onsen experience then this is place for you and in the scheme of things to costs is justifiable. I’d love to go back.

When I was booking, I tried to compensate for the fact that we spent a bit the night before by being a bit cheaper a Lake Toya. We had a basic 8 tatami mat (quite big) room in a hotel hidden behind the main hotels on lake front. It was cheap though and had a good Japanese breakfast. If you are thinking about choosing which lake to stay at Lake Shikotsu is the one it is beautiful, while Toya has ugly buildings upsetting the landscape. Lake Shikotsu is smaller and more focussed on good food. While Toya’s fireworks and volcanic eruption sites are good, I’d recommending visiting the sites on the way through.

From here we drove to Hakodate and following some guidance from Hokkaido website drove to Oshamabe for a bento that the area specalises in. The town is a practical fishing village, nothing really to see, but the crab based bento from the little restaurant across the road from the station and I assume also available is a bento from the station a rice dish with a crab topping is worth the diversion.

Hakodate is (after you get through the outer suburbs and the working port) a gorgeous small city with plenty of things to do. A great fish market, good restaurants and easy to get around city, by foot, car or public transport. I’d like more time there.

I’ve put together a slideshow for you. So far I’ve uploaded twenty or so. Hopefully in the next day or two, I will get a chance to upload the rest. Remember to press the big triangle to get it to play.
(p.s. We’re sitting in a cafe in Kyoto after one of our best Japanese dinners yet. Included seeing our fish killed and eating almost everything including head and skeleton.)

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